There are very few things in life that are more disheartening than finding an amazing sounding recipe, making the time to seek out and buy the ingredients, spending your entire afternoon cooking it for your family, and then you end up feeding it to the dog. Who is probably only eating it out of sympathy. Huge disappointment (not to mention a waste of your time and money). Sometimes it’s not even that bad, but doesn’t nearly live up to the expectations you had for it. I can see why this would make people want to throw in the kitchen towel.
The joy of cooking is to be able to produce food that moves you. That makes you eager to cook it again and again so that each time you put it in your mouth you say Wow all over again. You want to be rewarded for your work and to be proud to share it with others. This is how cooking should be.
I know that I often times take for granted a lot of little things while in the kitchen and what seems obvious to me may be easily overlooked by the home cook. For this, I wanted to compile a list of the most important tips that I believe separate the professionals from the home cooks. These are always a given for the pros and if you stick to these guidelines you will easily be getting professional results at home.
1.Keepin’ it Real – Good food begins way before you start cooking. Sourcing out the freshest ingredients will always yield better results. I know many of you will curse me for saying it, but you won’t get the same flavor from garlic in a jar that you will get from freshly grated garlic. It is really worth the extra step!
As a general rule, stay real and keep it fresh.
2. Salt is a man’s best friend – Many home cooks underestimate the power of salt. It is absolutely the important ingredient you will ever use in your kitchen. Salt is what brings out the flavor in your food and makes it come to life. It is that one crucial ingredient that could possibly be keeping your food from going to new heights. If you’ve prepared a dish from a recipe and it tastes good, but it’s just missing that “something,” often times you need to add a little more salt to take it from being good to being GREAT.
Also, it is important that you start salting your dish from the beginning and continue slowly salting throughout the cooking process.
A brief example of this is to begin by salting your water when cooking pasta to help boost the flavor of the pasta. Then continue by salting your sauce (a little at a time – be careful not to over salt, you can always add more, but can’t take away). Once the pasta and sauce are cooked and combined you check it one last time for seasoning and add a little more salt, if needed.
Start practicing with salt and you will begin to notice a world of difference.
3. Embrace fat- Don’t be afraid of fat. Using just the right amount — whether it be vegetable fat or animal fat — adds an unparalleled flavor and texture to your food that you won’t find with any other ingredient. I know that many of us associate the word fat with negative connotations (it’s hard not to in our stick figure-crazed, yet overweight society), but it’s all about being balanced and remembering that our bodies actually need fat. Everything in moderation. Just remember that being healthy means being balanced.
4. It’s all about the Technique – This is the one that really sets the experts apart from the rest. It is what pros have spent tons of time in culinary school learning or hours in professional kitchens doing over and over again. It does take some practice, but if you’re willing to learn, you will be able to pick up on the important techniques that help produce stellar results. Start paying close attention to the directions when you read recipes and you’ll notice patterns.
For example, the first step in making Beef Bourguignon is to get the pot very hot with your oil or butter and then add the beef and brown on all sides. The first step to making a roasted Pork Tenderloin is to get the pot very hot with your oil or butter and then add the pork and brown on all sides. The first step to making a Rack of Lamb is to get the pot very hot with your oil or butter and then add the lamb and brown on all sides. You notice a pattern? Get a few solid techniques under your belt, and then it doesn’t matter what you are making you can follow the technique and you know your results will be delicious each time.
A great cookbook that I highly recommend is a book by Michael Ruhlman, called Ruhlman’s Twenty. It has 100 recipes categorized by 20 different techniques and complete with step by step pictures. It’s a great way to get the essentials down pat.
5. Layer the flavor – There are many, many powerful ingredients in the kitchen that allow you to build flavor and add dimension to your dish (think acidity, spices, garlic, onions, etc). I’ve spoken with many people who omit these types of ingredients from recipes because they dislike their strong flavors. Let’s take onions for an example. There is a distinct difference between making a dish that has onions in it and using onions as a flavor base for your dish. If you dislike onions, you are probably not going to go for an onion soup, but if you use those onions as the foundation to your vegetable soup, it will help give that soup a deeper flavor and extra dimension. And it won’t taste like onions – I promise!
So, lastly learn the difference between using an ingredient in your dish or using it as a flavor additive. Don’t be afraid to use those powerful flavors!